Running your own business is never a walk in the park- it takes effort, courage and determination.

What can make it even more challenging is if you start to focus on what you’re missing and what you don’t have compared to other people. When comparison creeps in, it can be a determent to your motivation and literally kill your business.

A recent study in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin examined how we look at and how we interpret other peoples’ experiences and emotions.

Firstly, we have a tendency to downplay negative emotions and keep them more private than our positive emotions.

Secondly, we also tend to overestimate positive experiences and emotions with our family and friends and underestimate negative emotions. So not only are people hiding their negative experiences, but when they are revealed, they don’t hold as much weight with others as hearing something positive.

So imagine you hear a rags-to-riches story about someone who starts out poor and get rich by growing a hugely successful business. What are you most likely focusing on? How incredible their life must be now! How happy they must be to support their family. All too often we skip over the negative emotions. We don’t stop and think about how it must have felt to not be able to buy groceries or pay the utility bill. This means we are completely distorting our images of people and comparing ourselves to that distorted image.

I used to be the QUEEN of comparison so I totally get it.  It’s so easy to look at other people in your niche or hear to-good-to-be-true success stories and be envious of other people’s achievements.

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But, can comparison be a good thing? Of course! There is absolutely a difference between healthy and unhealthy comparison. Healthy comparison is when you look at other people and businesses and see what you can learn. It sparks ideas, teaches you things and helps you see mistakes to avoid.

You will know the difference right away. Healthy comparison will leave you feeling creative, rejuvenated, confident and excited about your business, Unhealthy comparison will always leave you feeling deflated, guilty and unmotivated.

So, why exactly is comparison so dangerous for your business? Let’s get into that now. 

1. You aren’t seeing the full picture

One of the main problems with comparison is that it seeks out vulnerability like a missile. Imagine you’re having a horrible day- you have zero motivation, your clothes don’t seem to be fitting right, you just got in a huge fight with your partner and on top of it all, you feel like you’re not really getting anywhere with your business.

Now imagine you run into an old friend or acquaintance you haven’t seen since high school and you ask how they’re doing. What are they likely to say? What are you likely to say? Are you going to tell them you’re questioning your career choices and feeling like a complete failure? Not a chance! “Everything’s going well!” “I’m self-employed, and it’s great!”. “Yes, I’m so glad I decided to start my own business!” Meanwhile your old friend talks about loving her job working as an accountant at a financial firm.

Now you walk away thinking, “geez, she seemed pretty happy. Job security, predictable hours..I wish I had what it took to get into accounting. She probably doesn’t have anywhere near the stress I have running my business”.

And, assuming human nature prevails, what is your old friend thinking? “Wow, it must be so awesome starting a business. I wonder if I could have done that? I wouldn’t have to deal with all the stress I have at the office.”

Now you’re both walking back to your jobs with a very toxic seed planted.Instead of focusing on your life and what you can do to better your relationships or your business, your mind is preoccupied with questioning your entire life and career decisions. You are comparing yourself to only half a story; a fairy-tale with no antagonist. You are beating yourself up over a completely fraudulent imagine of success. If you are already feeling vulnerable, this is a dangerous seed to plant.

2. It won’t help you succeed

When is the last time you succeeded at something while you were flooded with negative emotion? When has guilt and self-doubt ever fueled a major business success? I bet it’s not very common! Comparison is our way of self-sabotage. It will diminish your success and amplify your failures. There will always be someone more successful, more rich and further along than you. when you compare your business to theirs, any amount of growth you have will seem negligible, and any failure will seem catastrophic. Would you compare a child’s first year playing piano to a 40 year orchestra veteran? Or their first year playing middle school football to a pro quarterback? Not a chance- because if you did, you might as well tell that child they suck and should give up. So why treat yourself any differently?

3. It’s always lose-lose

This about it, who ends up benefiting from comparison? Either you’re trying to lift yourself up, or put yourself down. If you’re comparing your situation or business to someone who is worse off than you, not only are you belittling their success, you are basing your own success on a lie. You’re lowering the bar so you can lower your expectations of yourself.

If you’re comparing yourself to someone who is way more successful and further along in their journey, you are belittling yourself. You are creating unrealistic expectations and inviting guilt, frustration and depression to overshadow your success. When you really examine it, unhealthy comparison leaves everyone stuck with the short end of the stick.

So, that’s all fine and well, but what are we supposed to do when we feel toxic comparison creeping into our business lives?

1. Know when you’re feeling vulnerable

Vulnerability throws the door wide open for negative comparison. If you find yourself having thoughts like, “I wish I wasn’t so bad at design- his website is way better than mine,”  or, “if I had enough money/time/resources I could be as successful as her,” then stop and check in with yourself.

Ask yourself why you’re wasting time with comparison. Is there a problem in your business you can’t seem to solve? Are you using negativity to procrastinate self-sabotage? Find out what’s going on before you fall into the trap of comparison.

2. Practice healthy comparison often

Healthy comparison looks a lot different from the unhealthy version. Re-frame how you look at comparison and the purpose for it. Maybe you’re looking for some inspiration or you need help dealing with a problem and you want to see how someone else handled it. If you use comparison the right way, it can be a tool to help you solve problems, be part of a community or to make sure you’re still on the right track.

3. Get the full story

Next time you hear about the “overnight success” myth, RUN! We all know It is never (ever!) true. No one has become successful without struggles or mistakes and just because they don’t reveal that part of their journey, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Take the time to learn peoples’ stories and ask them questions about how they overcame obstacles. Never compare how you’re feeling on the inside to what people are showing you on the outside.

4. Unplug

If you find yourself unable to stop comparing to others and it’s always leaving you miserable, you need to unplug for a while. Stop looking at other businesses, stop asking people you don’t know well about their careers and stop reading entertainment articles or social media about mega successful people.

Spend this time redefining what success is to YOU. Notice how much better you feel without the burden of trying to live up to other people’s successes and focus on growing your business.  By the time you’re ready to plug back in, you will be stronger, more confident and less emotional.

What struggles have you had with comparison? Any tips to deal with it? Let us know!

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